Not too long ago, the prototypical major league shortstop was an agile, wiry guy who wasn’t expected to bring much with his bat.
But those expectations have changed, first with the generation of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra, and now with the likes of Carlos Correa, Fransisco Lindor, or Corey Seager.
Hoping to soon join the premier tier of talented shortstops is Willy Adames, arguably the number one prospect in the Rays farm system after Brent Honeywell suffered a UCL tear earlier this spring.
Adames has seen his name listed in nearly every top-10 prospect list for the Rays since he was acquired in the David Price trade in 2014. Since then, he has moved quickly through the farm system, and playing as one of the youngest in the league in each stop along the way.
Now, he’s pegged as a consensus top prospect by the most reputable of prospects outlets on the web — namely MLB.com (11), Baseball Prospectus (15), Baseball America (19), and ESPN (20).
After the 2016 breakout season that included an appearance in the Futures Game, Adames faced some adversity. In his first two months with Durham last year, he batted just .230 with a .653 OPS. It was likely the worst stretch of his professional career. However, if a player’s biggest test is how he responds to failure, he clearly passed.
In June, he batted .350 with a .999 OPS, the best monthly split of his career. He hit three home runs after only hitting two over the previous two months. He totaled 35 hits, including his only month of the season with double-digit extra-base hits.
Adames did not maintain that scorching pace for the remainder of the season, and his numbers certainly were off a bit from 2016, but he still finished with a career-high .277 average plus a .360 OBP and .415 SLG. Whether he can tap into any more power potential will be something to watch.
Fangraphs writer Kyley McDaniel had something interesting to say about Adames’ power in his weekly chat yesterday, noting his body physique has matured, and that his power may materialize faster than people think.
Sir Mookleton McBetts III: it seems the consensus on Willy Adames is that he will hit for power… eventually. Is this just a matter of filling out physically?
Kiley McDaniel: He’s been filled out for some time. The power is there, more 15-20 HR upside, so he’s almost doing that.
Adames has produced at pretty much every level in the minors, with a wRC+ that has never dipped below 119 in the minors, and his consistency and steady growth should excite a Rays fanbase who have experienced far too much inconsistency from the big league bats over the last few years.
The bat has never been a question, as Keith Law believes Adames has All-Star potential, something Dave Dombrowski said himself at the time of the David Price trade those many years ago:.
If he stays at short, he has All-Star upside with the bat, and if he packs on too much muscle to stay there, he may end up a 30-homer third baseman with OBP skills and an above-average glove instead.
An important development over the last 18 months stems from national writers cementing past projections claiming Adames possesses the tools to stick at shortstop, valuing him for his projectable body and mature approach. That’s certainly the Rays plan for him as well, with the club moving Matt Duffy back to third base despite declaring him their new shortstop after acquiring the slick-fielding infielder in the Matt Moore trade.
The Rays have shown full confidence in Adames’ defensive ability by making a clear path to the shortstop position.
Adames isn’t just a fantastic player; he is considered, even at 22, a future leader with an excellent makeup.
“He’s fluent in English at a young age, which is a good sign of him having aptitude, and he has a great attitude to go along with the skill. That makes him the player he is.
”Like I said, he has it. He’s a good teammate. He interacts with the fans very well. He’s good with the media. He’s just a good person, and he has that uncanny ability that he leads. He leads by who he is.” - Mitch Lukevics, Rays Farm Director
Having shown steady progress throughout his professional career, he looks poised to be a special kind of player who can become part of the core of the team long-term and will give the team above-average performances both offensively and defensively at some point in 2018.
By starting him in Triple-A and keeping him there for two and a half weeks (or longer), the Rays will gain an extra year of club control, which is of major importance for a team with the club’s financial constraints.
If he struggles in Durham (or Adeiny Hechavarria is lights out for the Rays), he might be kept in the minors a while longer, but if he shows any further progress and Hechavarria (a mentor in camp to Adames) is anything short of great, I expect we’ll see this star prospect make his MLB debut by the middle of May.
Combined with his intangible qualities, like his standout work ethic and leadership, and he could finally be the long-term franchise shortstop the Rays have been hunting for their entire existence, and his debut is only weeks away.
Want more Willy? Check out Neil Solondz’s profile on his off-season here.